Thunder general manager Sam Presti has been as good as advertised in his six months in Oklahoma City, a not-so-easy task when you’re labeled a wunderkind and hailed as the man who’ll rescue the franchise from its losing ways. Last week’s trade that sent reserve center Johan Petro and a second-round pick in this year’s draft to Denver in exchange for Chucky Atkins and a 2009 first-round pick was Presti’s latest coup, a shining example of the magic he’s worked since taking over on June 7, 2007. Granted, Oklahoma City is the worst team in the league. In no way can that fact be overlooked. But pinning the Thunder’s 6-32 record on Presti would be misguided and supremely short-sighted. From the start, Presti has attacked the job with a tear-down-before-you-build-up approach, an almost mandatory method considering the franchise was stuck in mediocrity and risked facing an enormous payroll with aging and declining players. And so Presti began the demolition project with the Ray Allen trade that landed Jeff Green. He continued it with a sign-and-trade deal that sent Rashard Lewis to Orlando and essentially netted three first-round draft picks in subsequent trades. Between maneuvers that cleared more cap space — dumping Wally Szczerbiak on Cleveland and Luke Ridnour on Milwaukee — Presti slowly began the build up phase. He took a chance on Russell Westbroook with the No. 4 overall pick in last year’s draft, and he traded a second-round pick for rookie Kyle Weaver, who Charlotte had no use for but is emerging as an all-around talent who’s capable of defending three positions. Westbrook and Weaver, two unheralded guards coming out of the Pac 10, are proving Presti’s skills as a talent evaluator and are only further whetting the appetite for the arrival and debuts of fellow 2008 draft picks D.J. White, Serge Ibaka and DeVon Hardin. Presti also stole a gem by plucking Nenad Krstic from basketball purgatory. And the recent hiring of assistant coach Ron Adams, a respected veteran coach who is known for defense and a way with youngsters, cannot be overlooked as the franchise continues rebuilding. The Thunder is coming out of the tear-down phase well-positioned, equipped with an exceptional foundation of players, five first-round picks in the next two drafts and more than $20 million in salary cap space next summer and more than $35 million in 2010. By accumulating those assets, Presti has the Thunder primed for future success. But it’s the moves Presti makes as he shifts into build-up mode by which the wunderkind will ultimately be judged. Stay tuned.
Thunder at New Jersey Nets
→When: 6:30 tonight →Where: IZOD Center, East Rutherford, N.J. →TV: FS Okla. (Cox 37). →Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM Three things to know
→New Jersey point guard Devin Harris, the frontrunner for the Most Improved Award, has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. →The Nets are one of only two teams to have more road wins than home victories. →New Jersey ranks last in opponent 3-point percentage, allowing an average of 40.5 percent. Probable starters